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Analysis: Israel sees shale replacing oil

By LEAH KRAUSS, UPI Energy Correspondent   |   Nov. 7, 2006 at 10:35 AM   |   Comments

HAIFA, Israel, Nov. 7 (UPI) -- The Israeli process for producing energy from oil shale will cut its oil imports by one-third, and will serve as a guide for other countries with oil shale deposits, according to one company.

A.F.S.K. Hom Tov presented its oil shale processing method on Tuesday, outside Haifa and just down the street from one of the country's two oil refinery facilities.

"Because the patents for this process belong to (the company), Israel is the most advanced in the world in the effort to create energy from oil shale," Moshe Shahal, a Hom Tov legal representative and a former Israeli energy minister, told United Press International.

Shahal estimated that the company's Negev Desert facility would begin full-scale production in three to four years, while other countries with oil shale deposits will need five to six years to reach production.

Oil shale is limestone rock that contains hydrocarbons, or fossil fuels -- about 20 percent of the amount of energy found in coal. Using the rock as a raw material and coating it with bitumen, a residue of the crude oil refining process, the company can produce natural gas, fuel, electricity, or a combination of the three.

Older technologies squeezed the hydrocarbon material out of the rock, with extremely high pressure and at high temperatures.

According to Professor Ze'ev Aizenshtat, an oil shale expert, the Hom Tov process is more environmentally friendly than other methods of converting oil shale into energy. It also allows for more flexibility in the kind of fuel produced, produces less waste and operates at lower temperatures than other methods.

Though the production process may be more environmentally friendly, the end product is still a fossil fuel, similar in quality to a high-grade diesel when in liquid form.

Israel's shale is low-quality, however -- its "caloric value" is only about 15 percent, while shale in other countries yields 20 percent, according to a report in BusinessWeek earlier this year. As a result, more Israeli shale is needed to produce the same amount of fuel.

Hom Tov isn't worried, however. "This is a much lighter (substance) than what gradually comes out of an oil field," Aizenshtat told UPI, as Hom Tov company owners Israel Feldman and Shimon Kazansky posed for photographs with their fingers dipped in a plastic pitcher of the stuff.

Because fewer refining processes are necessary with oil shale than with crude oil, the final product is a higher quality fuel at a lower price, Aizenshtat said.

The company estimates it will consume 6 million tons of oil shale and 2 million tons of refinery waste each year, for an annual production of 3 million tons of product.

It would cost about $17 to produce a barrel of synthetic oil at the Hom Tov facility, meaning giant profit margins in a world of $45 to $60 per barrel crude. Yearly earnings are forecasted to be between $159 million and $350 million, Shahal said.

Israel has 15 billion tons of oil shale reserves. Jordan, on the other hand, has about 25 billion tons, and the oil shale in Jordan is of higher quality. Shahal met with Jordanian Energy Minister Azmi Khreisat earlier this year, to discuss setting up a plant there.

The United States also has a giant reserve, mostly in Colorado, and Hom Tov sees potential for its patented process there.

The process, which Feldman and Kazansky developed in the mid-1990s, has lately attracted some high-powered investors, including Ofer Glazer -- the third husband of Israel's richest resident, billionaire Carnival Cruise heiress Shari Arison.

"It's a kind of dream" to invest in Hom Tov, Glazer told UPI. "It's the type of investment where Israel needs the product, and it creates jobs."

Glazer added that it will be good for Israel not to be dependent on "external sources" for its energy needs, saying that "those countries aren't exactly friendly (to Israel.)"

As for his stake in the project, Glazer said he preferred "not to get into numbers."

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(Comments to energy@upi.com)

© 2006 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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